The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) on Tuesday started a three day meeting at Imperial Golf View Hotel in Entebbe City, Uganda to discuss groundwater and its role in the sustainable development of the region.
Due to current COVID-19 guidelines, the high-level forum held from 25th to 27th January 2022 was combined between face-to-face and virtual online event as IGAD Member States, stakeholders, private sector and development partners discussed avenues for which relevant authorities can contribute to the development of an IGAD Ground water programme that is aligned to the overall mandate and strategy of IGAD.
Speaking at the official opening of the Forum on Tuesday, Dr.Workneh Gebeyehu, the Executive Secretary of IGAD said about 75% of the IGAD region is constituted of arid and semi-arid lands, which in turn are home to 1 out of every 3 of citizens or close to 100 million of people which are also the most reliant on groundwater as the largest source of water for the communities living on the edge of survival.
He added that the IGAD region has been affected by disagreements over water not only at inter-communal level in the borderlands, but more significantly, at regional level over riparian water rights along the Nile, whose sources are located in 2 of IGAD Member States.
‘’ In this environment of water scarcity, both national and transboundary ground water resources are uniquely placed to play a fundamental role in addressing major development challenges in the region in 2 main ways; First and foremost, from a political standpoint, groundwater resources can be an instrument to enhance regional Peace and Security. It is said that “water is the new oil” and is set to increasingly become the source of new and future conflicts. From a socio-economic perspective, groundwater is a catalyst for sustainable development.’’, he told participants.
He expressed concern over the challenge of insufficient compounded by limited human, technical and institutional capacities that are essential to devise and execute sustainable adaptive water management strategies.
‘’The knowledge of the deep groundwater resources is incomplete; We need therefore to put in place knowledge investments towards better quantifying and mapping out the available groundwater resources. I call upon this forum to first sharpen the focus on improving governance, legislative and regulatory arrangements of existing and yet-to-be-discovered groundwater resources’’, Gebeyehu further called upon Member States and Partners to exert the same level of effort and influence to build the technical capacity needed reduce the water gap as has been applied to closing the “digital divide.
The Minister of Water and Environment in the Cabinet of Uganda Hon. Sam Cheptoris said the use of groundwater in the Horn of Africa is still in its infancy which is a blessing in disguise as the region needs more water to meet its future needs.
He noted that much is therefore needed to be done in understanding the available groundwater resources in the region.
‘’ With political stability and visionary leadership, groundwater resources which are critical to the IGAD Region could be promoted as a natural resource of special focus. Presently , two billion people around the world are living in water stress areas, and the same will be true of more than half of the world population by the year 2050, if no action is taken’’, said Cheptoris.
The Minister added that the demand for water is projected to increase and at the same time it is becoming increasingly scarce as a result of climate change, urbanization, population growth and poor management of the water resources.
Fred Mwango, a Regional Water Expert and Ag .Programme Manager, Dryland Research Water Unit Agriculture and Environment Division at IGAD Secretariat, expressed concern on how groundwater resources is being exploited in an uncoordinated manner in a number of countries poses the risk of groundwater depletion and may even threaten water security, political stability of the region and further exacerbate the adverse impacts of climate change.
Dr. Callist Tindimugaya, Commissioner for Water Resources Planning and Regulation, Ministry of Water and Environment- Uganda called for a more regional approach to water security , water governance and development.
It is said that the Water gap is bigger than the “digital divide” where a lot of effort has been made to bring important telecommunications infrastructure to the remote parts of the IGAD region, but at the same time not enough effort has been made to bring similar life-saving water infrastructure to vulnerable communities.
Experts are concerned at the rate at which the quantity and quality of surface water resources is diminishing in some parts of the IGAD region.
Water is set to increasingly become the source of new and future conflicts. Furthermore, a conflict analysis conducted in 2021 by the IGAD Conflict Early Warning Mechanism (CEWARN) established that within the IGAD region, there is a strong relationship between poor vegetative cover due to lack of water and the incidence of conflict.
The study concluded that a 10% improvement in vegetation reduces the chances of Armed Conflict by 21% and human death by 17.3%. These findings are inviting us to explore the possibility that, if we are able to maximize the irrigation and livestock access potential of groundwater sources through shallow and deep wells, we can improve food and fodder security.
In attendance were officials; Ministers from other IGAD Member States namely; Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia and Kenya together with High-Level Decision Makers, Government Officials, Sector specialists – in academia at a regional and global level, development partners, International Agencies including UN Organizations, the World Bank, the African Union, media and Civil Society Organizations among others.
The forum was held under the theme; Groundwater for resilience and has been discussed under four sub-themes namely: Groundwater for Peace and Stability , Groundwater for Climate Change and Drought Resilience, Groundwater for Socio-economic Development , Innovation in groundwater financing and Technological Development and Capacity Building in Groundwater.
Organized by IGAD Secretariat in collaboration with its Member States and Development Partners, the forum showcased investment opportunities, new and emerging innovations in groundwater development and management.
It also provided an avenue for policy makers, technical experts, private sector actors, civil society organizations among others to contribute to the development of an IGAD Ground water programme.